7 Jun, 15:39
ERC can confirm that the Federation Française de Rugby (FFR) has withdrawn its application to host the 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals, due to the ongoing uncertainty regarding the availability of the Stade de France.
Lawrence Dallaglio only used to take a passing interest in the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP - until this season. It has been London Wasps' luck to date to be heavily involved in the Heineken Cup which meant this year's debut in the competition was a step into the dark for everyone at the club.
Given that Dallaglio's men have responded to this new challenge by surging into the semi-finals where they will play Pontypridd both at home and away, you get a clear idea of just how much importance they attach to winning the trophy. On the way, Wasps have turned over Stade Francais, one of the top teams in Europe, and the quality of matches this season has ensured the PARKER PEN is now holding its own against the Heineken Cup.
As Dallaglio says: "You always want to do well in domestic competitions and take whatever opportunities arise in Europe, and we have done that.
"Clubs like Sale and Harlequins used their triumphs in the CHALLENGE CUP to go on to even greater deeds and that is what we are hoping to achieve this season. Winning this competition offers you automatic entry into the following year's Heineken Cup and that's a great incentive in a season when there isn't a lot of silverware on offer. If you think about it, there's only the Zurich Premiership league title, Powergen Cup and either the Heineken or PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP, depending on which one you are taking part in.
"Given the level of competition across Europe, it's increasingly difficult to get your hands on any silverware!"
There were fears, particularly in the early rounds, that potential mis-matches would lead to stronger teams putting out virtual second-string outfits. While there was some evidence of this, coaches recognised that to maintain momentum you had to keep some continuity. Those young players who were drafted into the teams received a crash course in European rugby and an idea of what travelling to games can throw at you."
"The fact that we have beaten Stade and put out our strongest line up in each of the rounds is a clear indication of how we value the PARKER PEN CHALENGE CUP and we want to win it although Pontypridd are going to have something to say about that," says Dallaglio.
"Whoever does emerge with the Cup - and I hope it's Wasps - will be very worthy winners given the teams involved this year."
Dallaglio, whose father is Italian, has always supported the idea of greater contact within European rugby, recognising the only way to continue to close the gap between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres is to raise the standard of club rugby. Indeed, there seems little point in France and England trying to go down the provincial or state route that underpins the Australia, New Zealand and South African games when the club rugby scene is so strong. The former England captain accepts that in Ireland, Scotland and now Wales, lower numbers of professional players means 'super teams' or provinces are the answer. Even though he has previously worn the London Division jersey with honour, he is a Wasps man through and through.
Given his background, there was never any chance that he would be a 'Little Englander' and the chance to
visit Spain and Italy along with the traditional countries who compete in the European competitions increases rather than diminishes the attraction of the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP for the Wasps captain.
Dallaglio adds: "In the early rounds of the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP you get to visit parts of Europe that you didn't realise played rugby, like Majorca and Parma, and that's fantastic. Then the latter rounds throw up ties that wouldn't look out of place in the Heineken Cup.
"The new CHALLENGE CUP format has helped the tournament immensely and home and away really does allow the best team to emerge victorious as we showed against Stade this season. It's an exciting tournament and one that I can assure you everyone at Wasps has thoroughly enjoyed. It's a tournament that is well sponsored and well run."
It seems strange as we head into the final four of the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP that its existence was ever called into question when you see the quality of teams still involved, and those that have failed to make it to the penultimate round in a competition that goes from strength to strength.
This is an excerpt from an article written by Chris Jones of the Evening Standard, and is taken from ERC's official magazine, Rugby Europe. To the full article, click here.